Is the search engine business viable?

Commentary — Google’s situation in France just stinks: Google lost several trademark infringement cases related to AdSense in the past, and now Agence France Presse decided to sue over Google News.

To make matters worse, French laws on copyright and electronic publication are not in Google’s favor, and I trust other countries will follow sooner or later. Moreover, I think it is fairly reasonable to predict companies will eventually sue over Google Search for:

  1. Copyright infringement, due to page caching
  2. Trademark infringement, due to clustering technologies (e.g. ‘similar pages’ and ‘related topics’ that include reseller sites, competitor sites, or even counterfeit sites)

With services such as Google’s around, there’s not much incentive to visit sites such that of AFP — meaning AFP gets a random readership and advertisement revenue. As such, these sites are inclined to hope the exclusive nature of their offer could bring the regular visitor-stream back, and sue. I’m unsure this will lead them anywhere though…

In a near future, I expect search engines will be to online businesses what Wal-Mart stores are to offline B2C businesses: They will aggregate existing offers and potential demand in such a manner that it will be unreasonable to seek to do business without them. This is where the real value of search engines lies. And the next obvious step would be some kind of mass-affiliation, or straightforward ad space rental, to replace the paid-click model.